September 15, 2007 is a date that changed my husband, Jeff, and my life forever. It was the day our daughter, Laura Caroline Fish, was born…and the day she died. After a pregnancy that got off to a rocky start, everything seemed to have turned our way and we were expecting our first child, a baby girl. Our world was rocked when her movement suddenly stopped, and at 36 weeks gestation our fears were confirmed – we had lost our little girl. I am still stopped in my tracks when I think about the overwhelming feelings of sadness, fear, anger and most of all grief.
We went on to be the blessed parents of three beautiful boys – Preston (5), Philip and Marshall (2). Our hearts were full again with the birth of our boys, but they will never be fully mended after losing our daughter. We are head over heels in love with our boys and cherish them with our hearts and souls, but there is no gift in the world that could take the pain away from the loss of a child.
These days we carry our pain with a different purpose. We are less sad and focus on helping other families and organizations. With this focus comes the chance to share some of the ways that we, as a family, choose to remember our daughter and how those choices have helped our family heal.
Grief is such an all-consuming feeling of emotions. When we lost our daughter seven years ago, I wanted some way to exercise my right as a parent. I wanted to put all of my energies into being a parent, a mommy to my little girl. I did not have my baby, but I did have my memories and I chose to focus on making those memories a part of our home. I wanted physical reminders to look at and to cherish just as I would had she been living. I did not have the luxury of hanging newborn photos or sprinkling my nursery with framed footprints. But I could honor my girl with some subtle, some not so subtle keepsakes throughout my home. Here are some examples of what my husband and I – along with some other families have found uplifting and purposeful:
If you were fortunate enough to have photographs of your baby, consider framing one or even more. It feels so odd to display a picture of a lifeless baby, but these are all of the images some of us have. For me, it felt wrong to not display my pictures with pride. If it made someone feel uncomfortable, that was not my issue. Through the years we have become a little more private with our photos. While they are still framed and displayed proudly, we have chosen to keep some of them in our bedroom alongside our three other children. We want to see them every day as they are reminders that we are a family of six, not the family of five most view us as. If you prefer, the image of a hand or footprint may seem more suitable to your family. This is all so personal and a photograph may not feel right for you, but if you are contemplating it just know that it is a personal choice and no one should ever judge your actions.
A dear friend of mine, another grieving mother, gave us the most precious ceramic cross scripted with Laura Caroline’s name, birthdate, weight and time of birth. It is the same cross that I have seen other parents display, the parents who have living children. Having this cross reminded me that I am a mom even if I didn’t have a live baby to care for.
A woman in Dallas, Texas – Mollie Walker – is the artist behind these lovely creations. She takes amazing pride in these works of art and has so generously offered to donate a portion of the crosses or booties she creates for these “Angel Babies” to the NICU Helping Hands’ Angel Gown Program. “The crosses are my favorite items to create as I view them more important than anything else I am asked to paint”. Mollie says she prays for each child she creates a cross or bootie for.
For more information or to order a custom cross or bootie please use the website for reference only and email Mollie directly at [email protected]. Those orders mentioning NICU Helping Hands will have 20% of their purchase donated to the NICU Helping Hands’ Angel Gown Program. www.brainstormcreationsonline.com
CREATE A SCRAPBOOK
Most every mother has a baby book for their little one. It starts with baby showers, sonogram pictures and birthday pictures. The book then continues on with birthday parties, first day of school photographs, etc. The parents who are grieving a child may not have years of memories to collect and form a book out of, but they do have memories of pregnancy and birth. I channeled my energy into creating a baby book for Laura Caroline just as I would have had she been born living. I collected every picture I could find of me while pregnant, every photo from my baby shower, pictures of our perfect nursery, letters written to my daughter, her headstone and the list goes on and on. I included in our book a list of all the generous gifts and donations that were made in her name upon her death. The book is a collection of all memories even to date. My family has a balloon release on the date of her birth every year and photos from those celebrations are part of the memories we add each year to her special book.
Holidays without your beloved baby can be difficult to endure. There are many ways to make this bittersweet time of year a little more bearable. Ornaments with your baby’s name, birthdate or footprints are such a sweet way to honor him or her. We had so many given to us as gifts and some I purchased myself. They are without a doubt the most treasured items on our tree.
I must admit anything and everything I could think of went in a frame when creating our keepsakes. We decided to bury Laura Caroline in a different dress than the one in which she was photographed. We had the gown she wore for her pictures mounted in a beautiful frame and it is proudly displayed in our bedroom. We also had an ornament, displaying Laura Caroline’s foot print, framed and hanging year round in our home. Framing of Laura Caroline’s bereavement card was also a subtle way to include her memory in our home.
PLANT A TREE
Some precious family friends – who knew the pain all too well of losing a child – offered us the most amazing gift. They asked us if they could plant a tree in our yard in honor of our daughter along with a plaque with her name and birthdate. A lovely rock was hand picked on a trip to Colorado to hold the name plate. This was easily the most touching gesture coming from a family who knows our hurt and could envision what this growing tree would provide for us to display proudly in the front of our house. It is so incredibly special to us that it has made it through two moves and transplanting each time. It is simply a perfect way to remember our precious angel.
I love having special pieces of jewelry that are daily reminders of my baby girl. Many of the pieces are gifts from friends and family and a few I even bought myself. My two very best friends gave me the most spectacular gift – a beautiful, simple outlined letter “L” to wear proudly around my neck. Another friend gave me silver bangle bracelets that are engraved with “Laura Caroline Fish September 15.” My parents gave me earrings with her birthstone that are treasured beyond imagination. I could not be more proud to display these jewelry pieces. I never put them on without a thought of my baby girl – no matter how fancy or how simple your jewelry pieces are…that is the best feeling of all – knowing that I AM a mom of a little girl and that I have NOT forgotten her.
Every family’s path of grief is so different due to personalities and circumstances. After years of fertility struggles, the loss of Laura Caroline, the birth of our son Preston, the loss of a baby at 17 weeks of pregnancy, the birth of Philip, and the birth of Marshall with an extended NICU stay; we now feel that our family is complete. Although we cherish the memories of all of our children, we look forward to sharing these tokens of love with our family for many years to come.
I hope my message conveys that you should honor your child in the way that seems most appropriate to your family. I want to give families the acknowledgement that it is ok to put forth the effort and display whatever treasures feel right. Most importantly there is JOY ahead of those dark days and genuine laughter you might not ever feel possible. I wish someone could have assured me of that seven years ago.
Much love to all of the angel babies.
Heather Fish is a busy working mom to three boys – Preston, Philip and Marshall and our precious angel, Laura Caroline.